We went into the cypress and black water to read manuscripts and when we came back there was a whole conversation about blurbs. As usual, we missed it and just did our own thing.
We’re not against love and gold stars and trying to to land teaching jobs and reading shows and selling books, but the time when someone picked up a book, turned it over, and looked to see if anyone they knew had blurbed the book is sort of five minutes ago. What’s in a blurb? Too many are like “The quintessential first book.” Is that praise or shade?
A lot can happen in five minutes. You can run almost a mile with an alligator chasing you. It would be a pretty good chapbook. Section I: My Hand!
We stopped putting blurbs on chapbooks ten years ago. Except for one extravagant exception (ty Brenna Womer!) Blood Histories, by Tara Stillions Whitehead was enough of a ‘concept album’ it was important to put a door on the back cover to help readers come inside the back way.
The thing about chappies is they’re limited engagement by design. You lose a hand or a foot and go one with life and now have something to pass around to strangers and a few friends.
Jessica Murray’s poetry collection Breakfast in Fur (came out in August 2022) and received two lovely blurbs from Katie Peterson and Kathleen Graber. We obscured them with back cover art by Valerie Fowler. Sure, you can make out a few words. You know something is there…a splash sound, a tree limb falling. Maybe a heron? But of course we put the full blurbs inside the book.
The funny thing aboout using them less and less is that I actually love writing them. Since I’m not in very high demand—have never taught and only recently learned what a cohort is—I still get happy and weepy when I’m asked. Partly it’s the memory. As kids, my sister and I would play the blurb game. We’d see a guy on a bicycle and. I’d say, “To anyone else, he looked like a guy on a bicycle.” And she’d add, “In reality he was a jockey, racing against time, killed by the horse before the clock even started.” My God, the snorts we made.
Jan LaPerle’s Maybe the Land Sings Back and Colette DeDonato’s Orphanalia have neutral tones on the back with a few blurbs. Smart and intelligent—two different things—is what we look for in a blurb.
Suzanne Burns’ forthcoming Look at All the Colors Hidden Thereoffers only one line of lip: “You’re from Indiana so you know things.”
The book that has received so much attention is Ashley Cowger’s On the Plus Side. This is Ashley’s second book. Her debut won the Autumn House press prize and was nicely and conventionally blurbed. For her next story collection we wanted a Fellini festival. We asked her to write blurbs from the point of view of her characters, including outing her for what she may have gotten wrong about them. Someone on Twitter even blurbed the blurbs. The dead father in one of her stories said it best: “I loved my son. That’s what you don’t see in Ashley’s version of the story.